Christmas is a hotly debated topic this time of year as schools try hard to navigate the thin line between the secular celebration and its deeply religious roots. Institutions that are bound by law to separate church and state have to draw boundaries for personal expression. Even Charlie Brown is controversial, as some educators in Texas recently learned.
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The holiday classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has a deeply spiritual moment when Linus recites the Christmas story from the New Testament. For Christians, it is a profound moment. This humble cartoon character cuts through the consumerism of the holiday to deliver remind his friends what the celebration is really about.
So when a Texas educator decorated her classroom door with an homage to Linus’s powerful moment, her principal demanded she take it down. Dedra Shannon, a teacher at Charles E. Patterson Middle School in Killeen, Texas, was told that the images of Charlie Brown characters were acceptable, the overt reference to Christ’s birth crossed the line between church and state.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
“She [the Principal] said, ‘please don’t hate me, but unfortunately you’re going to have to take your poster down’.” Shannon said of the incident. “I’m disappointed. It is a slap in the face of Christianity.”
The teacher refused to censor the image. What could have ended quietly, instead went national. The teacher’s father, a local pastor, reportedly contacted Fox News. Her door became the centerpiece in a larger discussion of religious freedom.
And it didn’t end there. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the principal’s decision “an attack on religious liberty and a violation of the First Amendment and state law.”
“I am proud to have voted for the Merry Christmas law in 2013, when I was a member of the Legislature. We passed that law precisely because of this type of discrimination against people of faith. No school official in Texas can silence a Biblical reference to Christmas. This is an attack on religious liberty and a violation of the First Amendment and state law. I am calling on the school board of the Killeen ISD to immediately reverse their unlawful decision.”
The Merry Christmas law, HB 308, revised the Texas Education Code to allow students, faculty, and staff to openly celebrate their religious holidays without fear of reprisal. IT was signed into law in 2013 by Governor Rick Perry.
After the Attorney General called out the school late last week, the Killeen ISD released this statement:
“The Killeen ISD administration has reviewed the decision made in regards to the Christmas door decoration, and supports the actions taken by the Principal in requesting that the reference to the Bible verse be removed. Our employees are free to celebrate the Christmas and Holiday season in the manner of their choosing. However, employees are not permitted to impose their personal beliefs on students. The display in question was a six–‐foot–‐plus tall door decoration in the main hallway of the school building, and included a reference to a Bible verse covering much of the door. Upon review, it is clear that this display was not in keeping with the Merry Christmas Bill (House Bill 308), which requires that a display not encourage adherence to a particular religion.”
Looks like the fight isn’t over yet.